Wigs & toupees

The pros and cons of wigs

While the construction materials have been updated slightly, the process of creating a wig has changed little in hundreds of years. Simply put: wig manufacturers take a base material, usually a piece of cloth netting, and then sew and knot thousands of hairs into it. Some wigs are made by hand, others are machine- Costs can vary wildly from wig to wig. The base materials range from cloth to lace or plastic. Sometimes wigs are made in two or three sections to reduce their weight and encourage some air flow and flexibility. The hair in the cloth, lace or plastic base is then cut to a fixed style and taped or glued onto the customer’s head.

Strictly speaking, a wig or toupee is a kind of hat made of hair that is pulled onto the head and then taped or glued to hold it in place. Many wigs and toupees are often cut and styled before the customer has tried them on (some companies call these pre-cut hair pieces a ‘system’, which can lead to confusion amongst customers). When a wig is placed onto a customer’s head, depending on its construction type, there can be a gap between the scalp and the system. This lets sweat gather and soak into the cloth base, which explains the need for maintenance or cleaning.

Because of their specific style of construction, the hair may not fall very naturally and can have a stiff, helmet-like appearance. It doesn’t move naturally and can appear to be fixed into place. Its design also means that it has a certain thickness and weight, which is why it can be heavy and slightly uncomfortable for the wearer. This generally results in excessive heat accumulation and can make the wearer feel very hot, itchy and sweaty. There can be odour issues arising from wigs: when wearers are out in the sunshine, in a warm room or doing some physical exercise, the air between their scalp and the wig/toupee heats up in the same way as when you wear a wool hat. This has the result of making the wearer feel sweaty and uncomfortable. Depending on the manufacturer’s instructions, wearers may have to take their wig/toupee off every night for maintenance and re-attach it every morning. This can be a long winded and tricky procedure. The wearer has to get it right (i.e. in the right position and natural looking) in order to be able to go out and face the world. For some people, this can cause psychological pressure and in extreme cases feelings of depression and inadequacy, the very same problem they were originally trying to avoid by getting a wig/toupee. Some wearers also report difficulties in social situations because they feel self-conscious about their hair piece.

As there is a certain stigma attached to the term wig/toupee, most manufacturers now also call their wig products ‘hair systems’. However, in most cases this doesn’t actually mean the product itself has changed. Cloth or lace netting often doesn’t provide a natural look and can allow the glue or tape to show through, further taking away from the natural, invisible look that wearers want to achieve. Many toupees and wigs need regular professional care and maintenance, requiring customers to pay more money on a monthly basis, in addition to the initial cost of the wig/toupee. Finally, glues and tapes can be aggressive and can damage the scalp or cause allergic reactions.

Wigs/toupees are often relatively easy to detect, due to the front hairline thickness and colour. Because the cloth or lace used is quite thick, the wearer cannot expose their new hairline. In fact, they often choose hair styles that deliberately cover it as much as possible. Add to this the density of the hair: most wigs need to be quite dense to hide the netting effect of their construction. This adds to that thicker, heavy look that leads to an unnatural and possibly age-inappropriate effect. Anyone over the age of forty generally has lower hair density, meaning a thinner look, which can be very difficult to achieve with a wig or The hair styles are limited because of the way the hair is knotted into the wig/toupee. Another factor is that they do not respond well to water immersion or strong wind. It is a myth that wigs will simply fall off your head, but vigorous physical activity and personal intimacy can be a challenge. This can lead to wig wearers changing their patterns of behaviour to accommodate their hair piece.

Listed side effects of wigs/toupees:

- Reddened scalp
- Heat accumulation
- Allergic reactions or other medical issues due to aggressive glues and tapes


You can expect to pay from £3,000 upwards a year for a well-made, realistic wig or toupee. Many companies offer two wigs to last a year but this has to be paid up-front. Additional maintenance costs depend strongly on the quality of the wig or toupee and on the company.

Success rate

Low to poor. Due to their old fashioned design they are often easily detectable and hairstyle and activity options are limited. In addition, the fact that wearers do not like people touching their hair or head can cause social or personal


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